Tag Archives: travel with Alzheimer’s

Love In the Time of Covid: A Marriage Milestone Passes Ralph By

[Warning: this post is longer than usual but after all..

My son got married last Monday

I am elated. I am relieved. I am still anxious.

Marriage in the time of Covid is no picnic. In the weeks beforehand the wedding I struggled, wanting to be excited but worried about travel during Covid. I definitely botched how I expressed to my already nervous daughter my own concern about travel with unvaccinated grandsons. We had words. But once her pediatrician gave her a green light, I shut my mouth. We made it onto the plane as excited as we were tense, only to have the weekend get off to a rocky start once we arrived in NY.

The six of us traveling together from New Orleans, along with other family members and friends coming from elsewhere, had booked rooms in a well reviewed hotel in Brooklyn near my son JM’s home. Forget the reviews. As soon as we walked through the entrance, we knew we’d made a huge mistake. The place was a dump. Not only were the public spaces and bedrooms dirty, they stunk of stale cigarettes. And No One, including the desk clerk, was wearing a mask despite the prominently displayed sign stating that not to wear one was illegal.

Fortunately we checked out immediately, got our money back and moved into much better hotel—the clean and graciously run NU Hotel of Brooklyn (which I highly recommend). Everyone’s mood immediately improved. Of course, stress was inevitable. As more of our extended family gathered, family politics played out in small dramas —someone felt left out, someone became overly dramatic, someone behaved irresponsibly toward others, someone inadvertently stepped on someone else’s feelings. But by the brunch JM and his husband-to-be B held in their backyard Sunday everyone was getting along and I was enjoying myself, especially when I met B’s family, whom I immediately loved.  

As for the wedding itself…it was, as guests kept saying, “Magical.”

The perfect balmy weather helped. So did the beauty of Brooklyn’s Botanical Garden. 

Unlike at most weddings, a luxurious tea party reception occurred before the ceremony. A remarkably heterogeneous mix of multi-accented, multi-hued, multi-gendered  and multi-hatted guests mingled over tea sandwiches and sipped colorful fruity mocktails. Then ten or fifteen minutes before the ceremony guests began gravitating toward a long table lined with containers of dried flowers. 

The plan to have guests make bouquets had always sounded charming, but I worried ahead of time that few people would really take park. A waste of worry. Everyone, I mean every one present, did a bouquet. Suddenly we weren’t simply guests, we were participants, each of us carrying our flowers as we walked in pairs down a winding path toward the ceremony site to the strains of Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah played by a string quartet of elderly Russians. Officiant Rabbi Gail continued our participation in the ceremony by calling for frequent group Amens. 

To to be honest, I don’t remember what we were Amening or many details from the service. I was too overwhelmed by the intensity of witnessing the joy and love emanating from my son and his beloved. I do recall the newlyweds led us back from the ceremony to  cake and dancing. But first came a series of toasts, heartfelt tributes to the love of the newlyweds and also their generosity toward others.  When my four-year-old grandson surprised everyone by quietly taking the microphone to make a final toast,  “I just want to say I love you guys,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the garden.

Also not in the garden was Ralph.

For months, Ralph had been in a loop of worrying.

What if some yayhoo attacks the wedding and I have to defend JM and B,” he’d say several times a day as if he’d been ruminating on his own.

Gay weddings are accepted now, especially in Brooklyn,” I’d remind him.

Right, ,” he’d say, then add, “I hate flying, but I guess I’ll have to,”

We’ll splurge and upgrade to first class for the flight.” 

Ok,” he’d sigh relieved until the next time he brought it up.

I did book first class and arranged for close friends to be Ralph’s wingman and wingwoman in NY. Other friends also offered to help keep him occupied and happy. I told myself I had things well organized, that Ralph would do fine. 

But when my son visited two months ago, he and my daughter took me aside and made me face reality: Ralph might or might not be willing to get on a plane, but walking from the gate to baggage claim was beyond him physically as well as emotionally. He could sit at home and chat charmingly from his chair, but in public spaces he was unpredicatable at best. In restaurants he often became impatient and argumentative and embarrassingly inappropriate around wait staff. Being with more than two people at a time unnerved him; given he no longer enjoyed visiting our daughter’s house for casual family get togethers, how would he do around 70 people. Strangers would be a problem. A bigger problem, though, would be all those people Ralph knew he should remember but didn’t.

Recognizing the obvious, I still hesitated. Perhaps my shallow self worried what people would think, how I ‘d have to explain.  It definitely wasn’t because I wanted him there. I knew I’d have a better time on my own. Of course that made me feel guilty—perhaps the real reason I waffled.

But once I spoke to the experts at Ochsner’s brain clinic and a social worker at the Alzheimer’s Association, I faced reality.

I asked Ralph what he wanted.

I don’t want to go.”

Usually I’d argue, but not this time. 

Okay, you don’t have to go.”

Can  you tell people it’s because I don’t fly anymore?”

Yes, that’s what I’ll tell them. Because it’s true.” At least part of the truth.

While the wedding weekend swirled, Ralph had a lovely three days in the care of the wonderful Michelle. A nurse practitioner friend of my daughter, she brought her dog to play with Ralph’s dogs, she drank beer with Ralph and let him have an extra nutty buddy after dinner. 

Where were you again?” He keeps asking looking at the mask I’ve been wearing while waiting to receive my post-travel Covid test results. 

At the wedding.”

What wedding?”

JM’s.”

Oh I thought that happened a long time ago. Did people ask where I was.”

I said you don’t fly.”

Well I don’t.” He nods. 

It was a lovely wedding,” I add though he hasn’t asked. 

And so another page has turned.

BOP AT THE BEACH

 

beach

 

When my daughter in New Orleans, who loves sun and surf, brought up the possibility of a family week at the beach, I wasn’t surprised, but then my son in New York, who hasn’t let the sun shine on him directly since he was 18, jumped on board. I was thrilled. We were going on one of those three-generation beach vacations I’ve always heard about never thought I’d actually get Ralph to do. But he did.

Ralph agreed the plans seemed doable: not too long a drive; an area of north Florida he knows well; a house big enough for all of us to have privacy; most important, a covered porch with a beach view.

Of course, as the date approached, he grew less and enthusiastic.

 

Ralph: I can’t leave the dogs.

Alice:  They’ll be fine. Pedro will feed them and walk them every day.

Ralph: I hate the beach.

Alice:You don’t have to go to the beach. You can sit on the porch.

Ralph: I won’t have anything to do.

Alice: You can do exactly what you do here, and you will even have someone to drink beer with (unfortunately)

Ralph: How long are we going again?

Alice: Four or five days(actually seven but who’s counting)

 

After multiple (in the hundreds at least) variations of this conversation, I started getting nervous. For one thing, I remembered our last car trip months with its multiple stops for Ralph’s nervous stomach, with cigarette fumes blowing in through the open passenger window despite my requests that he not smoke, with his constant complaining how much longer. For another, I was secretly worried about the dogs, or rather about whether Ralph could survive a week away from them.

 

In fact, the drive was blissfully uneventful; I’d loaded the car the night before to give Ralph maximum pre-drive sleep time in the morning; he needed only three stops in five hours, and he was willing, most of the time, to vape instead of smoke. Since we were the first to arrive, Ralph helped haul the supplies inside before settling on the porch with a real cigarette while I unpacked and organized supplies. Then I had about twenty minutes to sit down myself before the others showed up and the week began in earnest. Those were the last peaceful twenty minutes I had for the week.

For the next seven days there were seven of us eating together, beaching together, laughing and/or arguing together, playing with BabyRalph together. There was also lots of me cleaning up and cooking and organizing the troops, and also biting my tongue and going along for the ride. Let’s face it; family vacations are like childbirth and marriage—universally the same while observed from outside, but intensely individual while going through the experience.

The group high of the week: a hilarious game night of charades and identity games, in which even Ralph got more or less involved

The group low: not the semi-frequent rain but an expensive, mediocre restaurant dinner that took forever and left everyone grouchy with everyone else.

My private low: The stress of maintaining a balance between involving Ralph in the life of the family and letting Ralph relax his way, ie by sitting alone smoking endlessly on the porch and drinking as many beers as possible. Not once did he venture to the beach, not even to see his grandson’s first experience of the seashore. And controlling his intake of beer was more difficult under vacation conditions although I found it bittersweet, the way the adult kids (including son-in-law) took turns sitting with him evenings on the porch, reminiscing and philosophizing beer after beer.

My private highof the week and going forward forever: BOP. For a while now BabyRalph has been calling his mother Mama, his father Papa, his 14-year-old sister Dada (no clue why but he refuses to call her anything else), and me Nan (sounds more youthful than Gramma or Nanna, don’t you think?). By the first day at the beach his uncle had become Jaak. And then Ralph became BOP.

Where BabyRalph came up with BOP is anyone’s guess, but it is genius. BabyRalph would run around the house calling BOP BOP BOP. And BOP would be dragged from the bed where he was napping or the porch where he was smoking to sit for a few minutes in the big blue armchair by the window so BabyRalph could climb into his lap and chatter away for a few minutes before one or the other drifted away.

On the last day I was the one ready, despite the allure of beach and waves and family, to leave behind the cleaning and cooking and organizing (and family), while Ralph/BOP was in no hurry to leave at all. As for the dogs, he asked about them exactly once.

So, whether he knows it or not, more trips are in the works.